Dance lifts- Is it all about the muscles? By Aleksandar Josipovic
Boys are stronger than girls!?…. …I’m not muscular enough ….
How many times have you heard these kind of answers and excuses when you wanted to discuss or attempt dance lifts with other dancers who are not trained in ballet and modern dance?
When I teach the technique of dance lifts to competitive dancers it seems often to raise concerns and questions about human physical stature, mainly musculature.
Sometimes it feels that ballroom dancers think that they can only do lifts in competitive dancing if they are beefy? However have you ever seen male beefy bodybuilder ballet dancers on stage?
Is it only about muscles in dance lifting or is there something more?
Classical ballet has its pas de deux (French, steps of two). A dance in classical sense between a man and a woman. In other words it is about partnering-dancing with a female partner who can jump higher, take positions she would never be able to do on her own and “float” about the stage as she is carried by her male partner. Lifting is an essential part of any ballet class work.
Modern/ contemporary dance has variations on that theme. Beside boys lifting girls variants like: girls lifting girls, boys lifting boys, girls lifting boys. Modern/ contemporary dance has shown us that it is not all about muscles, which you can see in a situation when women lift a man. Where else is the gender discourse made more visible and dynamic than in contemporary dance? In ice dancing also competition rules allow for the woman to lift a man in competition.
Basic requirements to perform lifts
The main goal of any dance lift, in any dance form, is in general, for the male dancer to lift the female dancer, off the floor. Lifting is a movement during which one of the dancers has both feet off the floor at the same time with the assistance of their partner. Consequently creating something that one could never do on there own.
When this is seen by audience they receive visually the information that the male dancer is (and he must be) strong enough to hold the female dancer. And this information is correct. In general cases, in this kind of situation of dance performance, we are seeing fit male dancers and not bodybuilders with lifting belts. To do a lift in dance one needs speed, power, balance, and endurance-all the things that define a fit dancers.
Technique in lift work
To execute this amazing and purely fun maneuver, of course we need muscles. Muscles are important, because they produce movement of and maintain the position of parts of the body. Muscles have three important functions: to produce movement, maintain posture and generate heat. Muscles lend support to the body and help it maintain posture against the force of gravity. Each movement that the body makes requires energy and strength.
Its also requires:
1.Body mechanics, which can be described as the proper and most efficient way to perform daily activities that are safe, energy conserving and help prevent the physical strains that may cause injury. The goal of body mechanics in performing dance lifts is to learn how to move the body so as to prevent injury.
In general for dance lifts it is important to know and apply the following:
- Maintain good posture and good body alignment while lifting:
- Keep your back straight,
- Keep your knees bent,
- Keep your weight evenly distributed on both feet,
- Keep your feet at shoulder width to provide a broad base of support.
- Use the strongest and largest muscles to do the job. Leg and arm muscles are the strongest. Back and abdominal muscles are the weakest.
- Always while you perform dance lifts with your dance partner, bend from the hip and knees, not from the waist.
- Use the weight of your body to help and make dance lifts.
- Work with smooth even movements avoid quick, jerky motions.
- To change the direction of your dance lift, take short steps and turn your whole body without twisting your back and neck.
- Avoid unnecessary added actions to maintain alignment.
2. Physics, a branch of science concerned with the nature and properties of matter and energy.
The biggest key element in doing a dance lift is gravitational pull or a tendency to move towards the center of an attractive force, as in the falling of bodies to the Earth. The principle of Newton’s law of gravitation is that two particles attract each other with forces directly proportional to the product of their masses divided by the square of the distance between them. This same theory applies to dance lifts. If one dancer lifts the other dancer, then he/she will not be able to do the dance lift only by strain and force, because one of the biggest elements in dance lifts is how to aligned the weight above dance floor.
When we lift someone we should have a common base of support and a mutual common centre of gravitation.
Since the Earth is round, no matter where you are on it, the center is always straight down. Thus, in order to have continuous tension on our muscles while training we must make sure the actual resistance we use travels a path that is straight up and straight down when we perform our dance lifts.
So in practice, when we want to perform, for example, a dead weight lift, (where we do not travel forward or hurt ourselves when lifting) we will bring the centre of gravitation of that new object above the feet of the dancer who is lifting.
If we observe ballet dancers we can notice that the male dancer holds the female dancers with his back straight and her shoulders square, it is all about balance and alignment, assuring that the body’s posture is always clean.
On occasions, maneuvers will fail, but with practice and awareness you can improve any lift you want to do.
3. Partnering skills
In ballet by definition partnering skills is particularly studied by male principal dancers, who must develop the strength to gracefully and confidently lift, catch and carry a female partner. While female dancer will spend more time on developing the strength in their feet, ankles, legs, and abdominal muscles for point work, male ballet dancers will say that a rule of successful partnering skill is-
obviously to be observant, and pay attention to your partner.
I do agree that this rule is important in performance of dance lifts, no matter which gender is lifting.
In partnering skills, when we perform lifts the key of success is to remember to keep the movement flowing between dancers. Throwing your weight into your partner, or lose your focus on your core is not a wise thing to do. So, to dance convincingly, dancers have to be able to adjust to one another, both physically and emotionally. It’s of great significance, value and a profound effect on success for the lift HOW a dance partner will guide the dancer who will be lifted. The lifted dancer must hold his/her body very strongly. Like this your partner is able to lift you. The body must be light and not rigid. To accomplish a very strong jump, preparation is required, since most partnering is about coordination of movement and timing,
it will be very helpful if you know your spatial direction and amount of energy you need to invest before you perform any lift. The understanding of primary muscle movement ( which muscle is agonist and which one is antagonist) will help you to put that energy in the right muscles.
4. Mental preparation
To successfully accomplish any lifts a vital component is – trust ! Trust is a firm belief in the reliability and strength of someone. Who would allow one self to be suspended in the air by someone whom they do not trust?
Only with mutual trust can the dance lift you want to perform be successfully executed. The trust and guidance from the dancer who is being lifted, allows the dancer who is lifting to take care of balance, alignment and perform the lift better. And therefor both have to take and give responsibility to each other.
To achieve a focused, confident and trusting mindset during performance make sure you are physically ready to lift your partner, warm up and stretched.
While you’re getting ready before your performance, you might be visualizing your lift.
Visualization can also be a tool for helping you lifting your partner more effectively.
Your state of mind will definitely influence the outcome of your lift. For example: if you get ready for any lift with tension in the body, stress about having to execute the lift and have anxiety about losing your balance, how you can lift anybody?
One of the golden rules is that if something wrong happens to a dancer while lifted, they will always fall down on the dancer who is lifting and never on the floor.
This rule is helping to make stronger mental connections and trust between two dancers.
It is better to be late ( timing ) and be in control, then rushing to make it in time and loose control over your lift.
The sense of touch, which we are receiving trough our skin, is our oldest and most primitive sense. Simply without touch there is no lift. Touching and being touched makes us feel secure, bonded, less anxious, grounded and safe.
Touch also communicates necessary information from our partner to execute the lift correctly trough: how, where, what and why we touch.
We receive information about transfer and smooth shift of body weight, the sensing of time, proximity and action used. As well the initiation of body parts leading these actions into the direction where the lift will take place.
Beside you being focused and committed you should also breath and obviously not have sweaty hands. Also qualities of touching depends on which lift is going to be performed. But no matter what, keep your eyes on your partner and be prepared for anything what the touch will tell you.
Space is a empty continuous area in which we draw our lifts into.
The preparation of the lift is happening in the personal space ( arm length). The action of lift is happening in the intimate space ( elbow length). The direction of the lift can be anywhere in space: vertical, horizontal or sagittal plane. Or different body parts into those different planes.
By doing some lifts you will experience dancing in new positions at different spatial levels. Try not to be too spooked by the concept of being upside down in space. By time you will get used to the feeling of being in different positions.
The same as with any dance figure, lifting with consistent practice will pay off and eventually give you the ability to execute more skillful and difficult lifts. The warming up, studying, learning and as well talking to your partner about what is and isn’t working—with good, constructive communication, even the most challenging lift can be mastered.